Defense Minister Ya’alon’s Ouster Is a Turning Point in Israeli Political History

The public’s confidence that Likud can be trusted to assure Israel’s security has been shaken. Ya'alon’s murky ouster will set off a political earthquake

Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to MK Zeev Elkin during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee  in Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to MK Zeev Elkin during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in Jerusalem.Credit: Reuters
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

The two hyperactive Likud politicians who put together the plot to unseat Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and replace him with Avigdor Lieberman have a myopic view of Israeli politics. Their only excuse could be that they are relative newcomers to the political scene.

Yariv Levin was elected to the Knesset seven years ago, the year Zeev Elkin became a Likud MK after leaving Kadima. Their aim in last week’s behind-the-scenes maneuver was to broaden the Likud-led coalition, and this aim they seem to have achieved.

The coalition representation in the Knesset will increase to 67 from 61. But the price Likud’s leaders paid for these six extra votes is a heavy one for both the country and Likud far heavier than they seem to realize. Their simple-minded explanation that a stable government is good for Israel and therefore replacing Ya’alon with Lieberman must be good for Israel is not likely to be accepted by most Israelis.

The defense minister is not just another of Israel’s many government ministers. He is by far the most important minister, shouldering direct responsibility for Israel’s security, the personal security of Israel’s citizens, and the lives of their children serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

Defenders of the murky deal to oust an excellent defense minister offer an explanation: that in addition to the defense minister, many others are involved in taking decisions on defense matters which presumably means that it’s not so important who the defense minister is. This shows an abject ignorance of the workings of the defense establishment.

All Israelis were lucky to have Ya’alon as defense chief these last few years, and this luck now seems to have run out. Choosing between an excellent defense minister serving in a narrow coalition and firing an excellent defense minister and obtaining a few more coalition votes should have been easy. But Benjamin Netanyahu made the wrong choice.

He and his allies insulted Ya’alon, a man who dedicated most of his adult life to Israel’s defense. The explanation offered by Levin and Elkin that the defense ministry is not Ya’alon’s private property added insult to injury.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.Credit: Emil Salman

But they insulted not only Ya’alon, they insulted the IDF. It’s a people’s army, and just about all of Israel’s citizens identify with it and love it. They have served in the IDF and their children serve in the IDF. Of all state institutions, the IDF is held in the highest regard.

When Ya’alon is insulted, it is an insult felt by many around the country. The people of Israel have been insulted. And they are not likely to forget it.

The confidence of much of the public that Likud can be trusted to assure Israel’s security confidence that has kept Likud in power for many years has been shaken by this recent escapade. What is being described as a minor adjustment in the allocation of ministries is likely to bring about a major shift in the public’s view of Likud’s leaders on defense matters. It’s likely to raise the question of whether they can be trusted on the issue closest to the heart of most Israelis.

Ya’alon's ouster is likely to be a turning point in Israel’s political history, one that Levin and Elkin, their noses close to the ground, did not foresee. A political earthquake is in the offing. It may take a little time, but it is coming. The law of unforeseen consequences is at work.

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